GREENSBORO, N.C. – The last individual race that Aisling Cuffe will run as a high school athlete told everything about who she is as a runner.
Cuffe studied the field. The Cornwall (N.Y.) senior knew that Kayla Beattie of Woodstock (Ill.) would push a hard pace. Cuffe knew she wanted to follow. Cuffe also decided that she did not want the race to come down to a sprint. So with two laps left, Cuffe took off.
“I knew that if I waited until the last lap, I might not have had as much and Kayla would have been more determined to fight back,” Cuffe said. "I wanted to go then, even if it meant sacrificing my legs for later."
So Cuffe decided to make it hurt. She dropped Beattie before the bell lap and became the first high schooler in U.S. history to break 10 minutes for 2 miles both indoors and outdoors. Cuffe crushed the national record in 9:54.22 at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals at North Carolina A&T. The previous mark was set by another New York great, Molly Huddle of Elmira-Notre, who clocked 10:01.08 in 2002.
“It’s impressive, but I knew that that 9:48, 3,200 was out there,” Cuffe said, referring to the 3,200 national record of 9:48.59 set by Kim Mortensen in 1996. “So I was looking to run closer to 9:52. It’s kind of fitting that I would miss what I wanted to get by like two seconds. But it was my last individual race so I’m kind of happy it ended that way. Sort of circular.”
Cuffe became the second high school girl in national history to break 10 minutes indoors at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in 9:56.85, just about two seconds of the national record of 9:55.92 by Melody Fairchild.
While Cuffe’s reign over high school distance running is coming to a close, the rise of Bronxville’s Mary Cain is just beginning. The freshman’s stunning 2:03.74 anchor leg led the New York team to a national championship in the 4x800 in 8:49.85, the fourth-best in the country all-time, on a team of three freshmen.
“These three beasts were just going,” Cain said of her teammates. “I didn’t want to let them down.”
Meredith Rizzo (2:13.35), the lone sophomore, Courtney Campbell (2:14.02) and Emilie Hoffer (2:18.75) turned the stick over to Cain about 20 meters behind North Carolina’s Cary (Achilles TC). The situation was perfect for Cain, who has made her name with her torrid starts in a fanatical freshman campaign.
Cain flew to the front after 200 meters and ripped through the first lap in 58 seconds.
“We knew that if we got it to Mary in position that she would just murder it,” Rizzo said. “But we didn’t want to leave it up to her. We all had to do our part.”
Bronxville barely even made it to the track to have a chance at a national title. Storms in New York kept them stuck on a plane in LaGuardia Airport, delaying their flight for three hours. The team didn’t arrive to the track until just two hours before the race.
Octavious Freeman ended a stellar high school career, repeating as champion in the 100 in 11.41. The wind didn’t mean as much to Freeman as the chase to for the national record (11.11). The University of Central Florida signee, has a season-best of 11.21 and a wind-aided mark of 11.11 from last year.
“I wanted that record but the win was too strong,” Freeman said, choking back tears. “I’m happy with a win so I can’t complain.”
Kendra Harrison (Clayton, N.C.) held off Kendell Williams to win the 100 hurdles in 13.49. Williams finished second in13.50. But the silver medal in the hurdles took a backseat to the sophomore’s performance in the heptathlon. Williams set the national sophomore class record with 5,169 points.
She needed to run 2:30 in the 800, the final event, to break the record. She finished in 2:28.65.
“I didn’t think it was possible,” Williams said. “I did not think I was going to run a 2:30 at all. I said I’ll try but I didn’t think it would happen.”
But with 100 meters left, Williams knew she had a shot and that’s all she needed.
“I was thinking about how tired I was but I was also thinking about how cool it was be to get that record.”
Reach Christopher Hunt at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisHuntArmory.